Right on the mark

COMMONSENSE - Marichu Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - November 27, 2020 - 12:00am

At age 38, Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) secretary Mark Villar assumed the post four years ago. This made Villar as one of the two youngest Cabinet members of President Rodrigo Duterte. The other is presidential communications secretary Martin Andanar who happens to be married to Villar’s maternal first cousin.

Guest in our weekly virtual news forum at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday, Villar still played coy on his possible running for higher office in the upcoming 2022 national and local elections. His mother, Sen. Cynthia Villar is on her second and last term ending in 2025 while younger sister, Camille is currently Congresswoman in the lone district of their home turf in Las Piñas City.

“With regards to the 2022, I don’t know. I haven’t really been thinking of that yet… I’m still weighing my options for 2022,” Villar quipped. “That’s (2022) the next step of my career. I’m thinking of the options whether to go back to politics or private sector,” he added.

Before he joined the Duterte Cabinet four years ago, Villar was newly re-elected as Las Piñas City Congressman. When he left Congress, his wife Emmilene, who was then DIWA party list representative in Congress, was designated as the “caretaker” of his vacant congressional district. After completing her third term in Congress, Villar’s wife “Em” got appointed as undersecretary at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in July, 2018.

The couple found themselves lately in a rather ticklish situation. Villar’s wife was designated last month by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to act as the official spokesman of the newly created DOJ-led Task Force Against Corruption. Her designation came at the heels of President Duterte’s rant in his “Talk to the People” address that he wanted to the DPWH be investigated for so much reported shenanigans among contractors colluding with unscrupulous personnel in the implementation of government projects.

As far as the DPWH is concerned, Villar disclosed, he has signed and issued 11 “show cause orders” to officials and personnel who could have been involved in alleged irregularities. The “show cause order,” he explained, is part of the internal investigative process being implemented by the DPWH in support of the DOJ Task Force.

So obviously, there is no conflict between the couple family-wise and as far as respective jobs in the Executive Department are concerned. It was during the 15th Congress while they worked together when romance bloomed leading to their marriage. The couple now has five-year old daughter.

President Duterte though subsequently qualified his rant by reiterating his belief to the integrity of his DPWH Secretary being a “rich man” who would not allow corruption to taint their family’s name. His father, former Senate president and once House Speaker Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr. is dubbed as the “brown taipan.” The elder Villar manages along with eldest son Paolo their family business empire that is engaged in property development, retail and banking through subsidiaries that include Vista Land, Starmalls Inc., All Value Holdings Corp., to name some.

The elder Villar is a very close friend and ally of President Duterte. He has stayed away from politics after he run but lost during the May, 2010 presidential elections. The elder Villar remains as the president of the Nacionalista Party (NP) in coalition in the 18th Congress with President Duterte’s PDP-Laban. The NP bloc includes erstwhile Speaker Taguig City Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano who run but lost as vice presidential running mate of former Davao City Mayor during the May, 2016 elections.

Incidentally, the erstwhile Speaker confessed Congress is not corruption free. In a press conference in his city the other day, Cayetano believed the previous moves to oust him from the speakership post were due to some congressmen wanting to get higher allocation for their districts under the 2021 budget bill. Asked about the basis of his suspicions, Cayetano alleged: “Those who were very vocal about me were given additional P300 million to P1 billion when the budget bill was transmitted from the House to the Senate.”

“During my time, I really controlled that. I did not let it pass,” Cayetano claimed. But he did not identify the congressmen or districts.

More or less, this is the same tact taken by President Duterte.

The Chief Executive also refused to name names of the 12 congressmen who were implicated by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) in alleged questionable involvement with contractors of DPWH projects in their respective districts. The President justified this, citing they belong to another branch of co-equal branch of government and therefore, it is up to the Office of the Ombudsman to go after them.

But for erring officials and personnel of the Executive Branch, public shaming is added punishment. In past three weekly broadcast of “Talk to the People” address, the President recited their names and their alleged irregularities from bribery to extortion and respective sanctions.

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay webinar news forum, I asked the DPWH Secretary how does he deal with legislators like the un-named “dirty dozen” and shield his personnel from being “pressured,” if not coerced by those in power. Without insinuating any bad intentions, Villar explained his agency tries to accommodate everybody to ensure all transactions are above-board and as fair and equitable as possible.

Politely calling them as “suggestions,” Villar pointed out, the DPWH takes a look what are the good projects as against what are lined up in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) bill of their Department. “We do our best to coordinate with them, explain to them that these are our priorities when it comes to budgetary process,” he cited.

And it’s not only congressmen but also officials of the local government units (LGUs), non-government organizations, and private citizens push for government projects they want undertaken, he pointed out. Looking at all Filipinos as “stakeholders” in these DPWH projects, Villar is right on the mark.

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